Get set for the big garden birdwatch

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FREEZING temperatures across much of Scotland are likely to drive more birds into gardens in search for food, according to RSPB Scotland

Just as well - because this weekend (January 26 and 27) sees the return of the Big Garden Birdwatch, and the recent snow and ice could mean bumper numbers of garden birds are spotted.

Last year, over 53,000 Scots, including 1371 people in East Dunbartonshire, took part in the annual survey, each spending one hour recording the birds that visit their gardens or local parks.

RSPB Scotland uses the results to form a picture of garden bird populations across the country, highlighting any worrying trends or concerning changes.

In 2012, the most common garden visitor in East Dunbartonshire was the blue tit with an average of two spotted at any one time.

The Big Garden Birdwatch is open to everyone regardless of age or experience. Participants are asked to spend one hour this weekend, noting the highest number of each bird species seen at any one time.

Schoolchildren and teachers will be doing the same in their school grounds as part of Big Schools’ Birdwatch, which lasts till February 1.

Louise Smith of RSPB Scotland said: “The Big Garden Birdwatch is a fun and easy way to learn more about the wildlife in your garden, whilst at the same contributing to an important piece of citizen science.

“No matter where people take part, whether at home with family, with classmates at school or even with friends, it all counts and will provide us with vital information about some of our more familiar garden birds.

“With the recent snow and ice, many species have been forced to move into gardens to feed. Our advice is to keep providing food and water for garden birds, particularly during the cold. So why not visit our website for more information on helping the wildlife in your garden.”

Over the years the Big Garden Birdwatch has highlighted some dramatic declines in UK garden birds, in particular the starling. Where once you may have seen 15 of these highly sociable birds at any one time, nowadays, in some areas, you may see just two or three.

Some bird species have fared considerably better over the years. Sightings of popular species like blue tit, great tit and coal tit in gardens have increased since the first survey in 1979. Goldfinches, which were absent from the Big Garden Birdwatch top 15 in the early years, have featured regularly as a top 15 species since 2004.

Visit www.rspb.org.uk/birdwatch and www.rspb.org.uk/schoolswatch to find out how to take part at home or at school.